Information on the Tokai Nature Trail
With climbing Fujisan on our plans for following days and in order to be well prepared for the strenuous climb we decided to hike part of the Tokai Nature Trail to loosen our muscles and to get our feet used to wearing hiking boots again, after having worn flip-flops for the weeks before. Our traditional Japanese inn, Fujitomita, was conveniently located near the hiking trail. The Tokai Nature Trail is a long distance walking trail that passes through eleven prefectures and has a total length of 1697km. In case you think of hiking the whole trail, it takes between 40 to 50 days from beginning to end. The route goes past beautiful spots like Mount Takao near Tokyo and the Minoo Otaki waterfalls near Osaka.
Climbing Mount Ohira
Our rather shorter goal for the day was to climb Mt Ohira, a mere 1295m high and only a little hill in comparison to Mt Fuji. Leaving the inn, we turned left along the road, past an army barracks where we could see some soldiers running around on the field. Some army vehicles passed us until we were well into the forest and on a narrow dirt track. The Tokai trail was fairly well signposted and therefore not difficult to find. The area was very rural and we got a few interested looks from the locals and the odd person was even brave enough to ask where we came from. A local football team of boys, about the same age as Jerome were all smiles when we greeted them with “Konichiwa”.
One thing I have always admired about Japan (there are many things…) is that every bit of free space, no matter where it is, even on the roadside is planted with colourful flowers. This always made me feel like walking through a large garden than just along the average backstreet of a village. There were sunflowers, cosmos and even the lush green rice fields looked like they were part of the picture. The houses had pretty wild meadows and vegetable patches. There were also larger fields, planted with a variety of vegetables and fruits, we spotted some ripe tomatoes and even some pumpkins.
Fruit and Vegetable Stalls
Next to the road were little stalls, some manned with older Japanese women and men selling their fresh produce to the locals. Other stalls were unmanned and you could buy some vegetables by putting the right amount of coins into a box. This shows just how trustworthy Japanese people still are, in many other countries the vegetables would just be stolen or the money gone! Every now and then we came upon a vending machine, some stood right in the middle of nowhere, another thing that has always fascinated us. They can be rather useful, especially on a hot, humid summer’s day, like the one that day. We always had our favourite machine’s, selling drinks we liked more than others, and would sometimes guess which one would be next up.
The Ascent of Mt Ohira
After a long stretch on a pedestrian/cycle path next to the forest we reached a park with a restaurant and could see the Yamanakako Hananomiyako Park with its large flower fields in the distance. While I would have loved to visit the flower fields we had to turn left towards the bottom of Mount Ohira. The edge of the forest was lined with huts, they all appeared to be holiday homes. Most of them were closed up, a few had some bikes and other signs of life in their gardens. Almost immediately after re entering the forest we had to ascend the slope of the mountain. Jerome noticed a warning sign for bears on one of the trees, while there are still wild bears in the Japanese forests it was most unlikely for them to be in an area that is as built up as Fujiyoshida. The path was lined with wooden steps to help us climb to the top of the mountain. It was definitely not the hardest hike we had done but we were glad when we came out onto the misty plateau of the summit. We could see some wild pampa grass gently swaying in the mist and stopped for a break. On a fine day we would have had an amazing view towards Fujisan and lake Yamanaka below. We hoped for clearer views from Fujisan on the following days.
For our descent we took a different route and the path soon turned back into a normal tarmac road. At the bottom of the hill we arrived back at the outskirts of Oshino village. Heading straight on we stumbled upon a Shinto shrine with a playground and later on a large Buddhist temple with a graveyard. Our hosts had recommended us to visit the Oshino Hakkai, an area with eight sacred ponds that were rather disappointing when we reached them. Further along was a freshwater aquarium but sadly it was closed for the day. Army trucks started to pass us again and to our surprise we were closer to our hotel than we had thought.
Back at the inn, the boys went for a quick swim and then enjoyed the hot water of the onsen. We went to bed early that night, to be fit in the morning for our big adventure of climbing Fujisan, which you can read in this post.